Notes from the road

• I spent the week listening to the audiobook of Michael Connelly’s new novel Resurrection Walk, featuring Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller and retired detective Harry Bosch. During a scene at Harry’s house, I thought I heard a reference to a three-record Miles Davis concert album from the 1960s that Bosch had purchased online  through “Rare Vinyl,” a store in Nashville.

When I circled back and looked up Rare Vinyl, it turns out to be a U.K.-based online store, and although there are quite a few great stores selling LPs in Nashville, none of them seem to be called Rare Vinyl. And finally, I can’t find a reference to a real three-record live album by Miles Davis from the 1960s.

I’m thinking I didn’t quite hear it right. But Bosch’s love of vinyl and jazz are among his most endearing traits.

• I stopped for gas, and while I was pumping a pickup truck rolled up and three guys got out. Within seconds I heard the legendary F-word about a dozen times. My hearing is about what you’d expect from a septuagenarian, so I was quickly able to fantasize that they were a party of duck hunters and Duck! They couldn’t wait to get out on the ducking lake, and duck that anyway.

It seems I am easily amused. I guess you had to be there. Duck it.

• I passed a horse trailer on Highway 22 and two big old horses were hanging their heads out the window. The big beasts looked like happy dogs loving the feel of the wind in their face. 

That’s all — I just wanted to write it down so I remembered the image, because it made me smile.

This time

The clock says it is an hour earlier than it was exactly 24 hours ago, and we will be forgiven if we spend an extra hour in bed today. It is the end of daylight-saving time and the return of standard time.

In my neck of the woods, the sun rose at 7:32 a.m. yesterday and will rise at 6:33 a.m. today, setting at 5:35 p.m. yesterday and 4:34 p.m. today.

I miss those summer days when the sun rose at 5 and set around 9 — daylight-saving time “rescued” us from the horror of 4 a.m. sunrises and 8 p.m. sunsets. Come to think of it, “saving” the daylight to match our circadian rhythms may not be the worst idea ever.

What if we abandoned clocks altogether? Would we be that worse off? We wouldn’t know when the train leaves or the games begin, of course — how would we manage? Or are we micromanaging our lives now? Does it really matter that the deadline is 5 p.m., or is “late this afternoon” sufficient? The hands of the clock have been holding us for so long that we’re not sure how to live without them.

Much ado revolves around being on time, but perhaps time is on us, an ever-present stressor. We live a soccer game of a life, where we have two halves to play but we’re not sure exactly when the second half will end.

Should we disconnect the clocks? Never really know what time it is? It would be a jarring change from now, when we carry a precise timepiece in our pockets synchronized to each other all the time — it was exactly 5:43 a.m. Nov. 4, 2023, when I wrote this paragraph. 

It’s quite an invention, this “time,” and we fantasize about moving back and forth through it, as if time were a real thing, but in reality it seems we only move in one direction. After all, if we could go backward, folks would already be doing so, wouldn’t they, and we would be meeting people from the future regularly? Or are the wealthiest among us gamblers equipped with a 2050 edition of Gray’s Sports Almanac?

We mark the return of “standard time” with reminders and conversations about whether daylight-saving is a good idea or a silly one. Should we stay in “standard” time forever and dispense with the manipulation? Or is the conversation itself a silly manipulation, distracting us from the fact that we are living in a remarkable time, or at least (to quote the legendary curse) an interesting time?

A lifting

He watched the phrases dance across the page.

He heard the melodies. He felt the rhythms. He smelled fresh lilacs and tasted mint. And all the world burst forth from on the page.

Tensions, pent up, eased. His shoulders relaxed, having never sensed their tightness.

The cascading waterfall in his chest slowed to a trickle.

“So, this is peace,” he whispered, and was well.

A respite from the rush of frantic need, the quiet nearly overwhelmed him until he sank into it and allowed it to surround his troubled soul, to comfort him with its nothing. He scarcely had noticed the weight until it was lifted, and now this freedom astonished him with its lightness.

He heard the scratch at the corner of his consciousness, and he knew the relief was temporary. One by one, the troubles would settle on his shoulders again, but now he knew what it felt like to shrug them off, and perhaps he would learn to shrug.

As in the instant

Sometimes I eye myself in the mirror and see my father looking back at me. Other times it’s one of my brothers. Silly, of course: It’s really me. But I see the family resemblance.

I’m spending quite some time today thinking about the passage of time. Time doesn’t actually pass — it’s always now. We can describe what just happened or what happened a long time ago, but the description will be filtered through now, as it has to be, because there’s only now. Any recording or recollection is necessarily not as good as in the instant.

It’s all one journey, from waking consciousness, to awareness of consciousness, to learning to walk, and moving about. We touch base with our memories and compare notes with other people, but it’s all one journey of awareness and discovery.

Oh, how profound and pretentious I sound, as if disclosing a secret of the universe newly unearthed. What fools we mortals be — and all these years later, I have a new understanding of what old Will meant when he wrote that line. I am an old dog still learning very old tricks in hopes of mastering them someday.

The year the world became better

New Year’s Eve is when the optimists come out to play, with our resolutions and fresh goals and hopes and prayers.

Maybe 1941 will be the year when nations stop rattling swords at each other and sue for peace.

Maybe 1968 will be the year when people stop thinking skin color determines superiority or inferiority.

Maybe 1990 will be the year when we are finally free to beat our swords into plowshares.

Maybe 2020 will be the year when authoritarians grow tired of their games and trust in freedom.

Maybe 2023 will be the year when … humanity changes its very nature?

The pessimists who call themselves realists are not surprised when humans’ basest nature rears its head again and the resolutions and fresh goals and hopes and prayers clatter to the dirt.

As I wrote the other day, we hang our heads and realize there is no peace on Earth, despite what the bells on Christmas Day say — but there is more peace than there once was. Americans and Japanese and British and Germans work and play together. People with different skin colors marry, and their families are welcomed with love and acceptance. Around the world, every day, day by day, billions upon trillions of human interactions are performed peacefully, and we are always appalled when violence intervenes. Even the authoritarians are constantly frustrated by the independent thinkers who refuse to kowtow and do things their way.

Maybe 2022 was not the year when everything changed — but some things changed.

Inch by inch, bird by bird, soul by soul, not all at once but slowly, the world has become a better place than it was one, 10, 50, and 100 years ago.

Maybe 2023 will be the year we finally accept that and are grateful.

Or maybe the calendar doesn’t matter, and you and I should simply do what we can to make this day better than yesterday was, day by day.

Happy New Year, friends.


A few ramblings about time and such

My body rebelled against me the other day. It … well, never mind the details. I had to lie down on the couch at the day job until my head cleared a bit, and I had to fight to stay awake driving home, and once home I peeled off my coat and collapsed into the bed, where I slept and slept and slept until it was time to go back to work. 

This was very disconcerting, of course, because I had things to do and places to go — not to mention writings to write — not to mention, well, all sorts of things I could mention. It’s just so darn inconvenient to get sick.

Fortunately, it appears to have been a 24-hour flu — maybe 36 or 48 hours — because as I type this I am feeling much better, perhaps a little weak but that could just as much be because I haven’t felt much like eating for 24 or 36 or 48 hours and oh my god I’m turning into an old man who talks about his health issues.

Having been born in 1953, the year 2023 has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. When one turns 70, there’s no beating about any bushes anymore, you’re officially elderly, and isn’t that just bizarre? I remember singing songs I’d made up in the back of the 1954 Studebaker to entertain (or irritate?) my brothers. I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and the first episode of some new science fiction show called Star Trek and hearing “Good Vibrations” on the radio and my concept of who The Beach Boys were exploding.

I am 10 years old. I am 19 and falling in love. I am 22 and starting my first full-time job. I am 44 and falling in love again. I am 48, calling a reporter who worked for me and hearing her say expectantly, “Grandpa?” and we giggled because no, sorry, I’m not Grandpa — but does my voice sound grandfatherly now? No, I insist, I am 10 years old. (I was 10 when I discovered Spider-Man and the world changed.)

I remember the first time I thought of a memory and realized it was 50 years ago, and now it’s more than 60. You don’t fully understand how long a half-century is until you’ve lived it and you start comparing what life was like 50 years ago with now. 

They say life goes by in an instant, but nope, it slogs along day by day. Come on, 50 years ago was a very long time, and as much as I loved being in college and all those friends, that was a very long time ago. One year ago is a long time ago. And I’ve been privileged to have almost 70 of these years.

So when your body rebels against you after 69-plus years, you sit up and take notice and maybe worry a little bit. And when you’re feeling much more like yourself 24 or 36 or 48 hours later, you sigh in relief and get on with living. 

It’s almost 2023. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, because I know I’ve said it before: I remember reading Nineteen Eighty-Four and being alarmed but grateful because 1984 was so far in the future. I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondering whether that far-flung year would really look like that. It never occurred to me what it would be like when people born in 2001 became adults.

Where am I going with this? You know, that’s a question it helps to ask every day. Mostly I’m feeling better, thanks.

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

Once upon a time there was a little girl growing up in a small country town in Wisconsin. She had a dad and a mom and a big brother.

On Christmas Eve they would leave milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, and then Dad would pack the kids and the dog into the car and they would go for a ride to buy ice cream cones. Yes, somewhere in chilly Wisconsin was a small town where you could buy an ice cream cone on Christmas Eve.

When they all got home, Mom was waiting upstairs, and downstairs Santa had come and eaten the cookies and drunk the milk and left presents for everyone under the Christmas tree. They spent the rest of the night unwrapping the presents and having a great time as a family.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 miles away, a little boy was growing up in a small town in New Jersey. He had a dad and a mom and a big brother and a little brother.

On Christmas Eve Mom would bake magic bars and cookies, and they’d gather around the living room while Dad read from the book of Luke by candlelight. (The boy always thought Quirinius was a funny name.)

After that they’d eat the goodies and go to bed, knowing that sometime in the night Santa would fill their stockings with more goodies and leave presents under the Christmas tree.

Somehow, 40 years or so later, the little girl and the little boy found each other over the miles and lived happily ever after together in a little blue house in the country with sweet but somewhat insane dogs and cats.

And here we are at another Christmas, wishing you love and peace and a pretty darn terrific new year to come.